If you’re anything like me, a tank-based shooter sounds dull and clunky. With a wealth of more sexy war machines (such as War Thunder’s combat plane shooter or Hawken’s manned battle-drone robots), tanks sound kind of…inhibitive. But—if you’re anything like me—you’d be in for a surprise.
Drawing on tanks from World Wars I and II, the combat vehicles in World of Tanks are historically accurate; that is to say, they are not needlessly beautified or enhanced. They choke and sputter, they have mobility limitations, and they come across exactly as the thick-shelled clunkers that they are. Game play was slow and tactical compared to some of the other popular shooters out there today, and in some tanks reloading took so long that I quickly learned that hiding or shooting and then retreating was the only way to win. And yet, I couldn’t put it down.
I’d played the PC version last year in spurts, and have been waiting patiently for the Xbox version to be released. Reminiscent of the tank battles in Battlefield 1943, this team-based MMO is a thorough and well-composed FPS that puts you in the driver’s seat of armored warfare.
The game took up over 2.5 GB’s of hard drive space, and it’s no wonder when I saw how many tutorials there were. I don’t remember any tutorials being accessible from the PC in-game (although there were a number of wikis and forums and walk-throughs dedicated to the WoT that seemed pretty helpful). At any rate, the tutorials for Xbox were well-orchestrated, and seemed to be of high production quality; I was happier to have them and not need them then to need them and have to dig through the interwebs for tips. These tutorials were thorough—they covered each tank and it’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as techniques and strategy for combat with other tanks and how best to serve your team using each vehicle. Also covered were weak points in tanks and where to aim for the surest kill, hints for using the battle map to your full advantage, as well as tips for communicating with your team via radio controls (which could be used to target an enemy tanker and request back-up from team mates, among other things).
And the announcer kept me paying attention, with his high-energy narration and laymen’s terminology. Example: “Medium tanks are the Swiss Army knife of combat vehicles.” He sounded pumped , which got me pumped, and I appreciate that extra effort on the developer’s end.
You start you out with 2 light tanks and a medium (the T1 Cunningham, the Leichttraktor, and the Vickers Medium Mk. 1), a tier 1 tank from each of the three nations represented in the game at launch (America, Germany and Great Britain). These tanks are parked in your garage, which holds up to five tanks by default (more if you want to fork over some gold, but I’ll touch on that later), and are special in that they are foundation tanks, which can be built upon to gain better vehicles. Buying new tanks involves playing the game to gain experience points (XP) and silver—a combination of both are accrued to trade up and further equip your starter tanks.
The game did their homework, too, and offered some delightful historical sideliners about the tanks. For example, regarding the T1 Cunningham: “Prototypes were developed by James Cunningham Son & Company (Rochester, NY) from 1927 through 1928. Various modifications of the vehicle were tested until 1934. However, the tank never saw mass production.” The game felt practically educational.
Games are chosen at random, and World of Tanks offers three missions (Standard and Encounter modes, which are 15 minutes in length, and assault, which is 10…or last man standing in each case) and currently 7 maps (such as Mines, Mountain Pass, or Cliffs, all vaguely reminiscent to me of Battlefield 1943).
Let’s touch on XP, just briefly, since this in-game currency is the bread and butter of this freemium game. Two kinds of XP can be earned: one is tank XP, which is earned by playing a tank in maps that can only be used for THAT same tank, and the other is free XP. Again, tanks that you play earn XP communicable only to THAT tank, and the rest is free XP. The more XP you gain, the more versatile the matches—there are more tanks of different styles, and you face more enemies (backed by a larger team of your own).
Silver is also earned during play, and accrues for frags, team matches, and just getting out there in general. And then there’s gold. Gold is worth more; gold can buy you more silver, or premium features such as whole tanks, sweet weapons and camo upgrades, and more slots in your garage to help you build an armada. Gold, however, is all on you—you earn gold by paying cash monies that are equivalent to larger hypothetical game sums. Ex: $14.95 on World of Tanks is equivalent to 3000 gold.
Typically speaking, I live and die by the credo of “why buy the cow”, so I love free games. Especially games like World of Tanks that are visually complex, engaging and offer so many customizable features. However, there was something really cool about upgrading to premium: exponential experience points. By purchasing a premium package (I went with premium for 30 days), I gained about 2,000-3,000 more XP per match than other players, making it a lucrative advantage in gaining XP and, ultimately, tanks. Bigger and badder tanks than a lot of the players online, leaving me free to spank the enemy at will. For a game with so much replay value, that seemed like money well spent.
Okay, back to the game itself. Any tank that you purchase in the game links up to another tank in the Tech Tree. In order to upgrade tanks, you need first to “research” them…which means, simply, that you need to play that tank frequently enough to gain elite status. Gameplay equals research, and you use the silver and free XP you’ve earned to add more tanks to your fleet. You can also use your gold, if you’re like me and bought into the hype. Something cool that I learned: silver-bought items, such as emblems, decals and other swag, fall off of your tank between 7 and 30 days, depending on how much silver you pony up; gold purchases, however, remain on your tanks indefinitely.
Once you saddle up and get into the game, play is pretty straightforward. You use your map, your sights, and your wits to conquer your enemy or their base. Light tanks are fastest, reload quickly, and die just as quick if you aren’t making sure to keep cover. Medium tanks were slightly slower, but could take more punishment, as well as dish it out. Obviously, heavy tanks crept along and were an easy target in unsheltered environments; I found heavy tanks doled out the highest frags, for me, but required a lot of peeking around corners and making sure no one had a clear shot at the back or sides of my tank.
Tank destroyers were similar to heavy tanks in that they hit hard, but ranged in speed depending on how high up the tech tree you tiered; this tank didn’t stand up well under fire, however, and required more tactical maneuvering and strategy than the smaller tanks. Artillery was fun to play; a support tank, these were designed to fire from a distance, and came with a far-range scope and exacting reticule to help ensure accuracy. Unfortunately, these tanks were also fun to kill—two or three hits got me benched in more games than I care to admit, making this a tank that required tact and skill. Heavy tanks, destroyers and artillery tanks were all tanks that required research to accrue; however, they are worth the wait, and provide you with a fun and varied range of vehicles to mob around in.
If you die prior to a battle’s end—and believe me, you will—you can’t use your tank; it’s technically still in play, it’s burning carcass left on the field to provide cover for remaining players and to be gawked at in shame. You can, however, return to the garage and play a match using one of your other two (or more, if you’ve been playing long enough to accrue a few) tanks.
Matches are 7v7 or 15v15, and teams are always pitted against other teams that have an equal number of tanks/tiers. While this is common in most MMO’s, it was nice for me to know in advance so that I wasn’t pitted against tanks/teams with an unfair advantage because of investment in the game. There is a level playing field, and teams that work together will come out ahead.
While the audio was great (realistic nature sounds, lawn-mower-esque chugging for older, smaller tanks, realistic mechanical audio for turret movements, and spot-on evacuation alerts, as well as defeat/victory music and garage noises), and visuals for the tanks and maps were pretty excellent, my only complaint with WoT was the way tanks interacted with items on the map. While trees were felled by my mechanized death machine, for some reason the produce in a vineyard didn’t move at all as I rolled over. Walls, ladders, clotheslines all reacted the same—a noise of destruction followed by their disappearance. I would have liked to see the clothes flap away or get stuck to my tank face. It’s the little things, after all. But for a free game, this was still great. Better than great, in fact. It’s not hard to see why WoT has been garnering awards left and right: Online Game of the Year in the 2014 DICE Awards, Best MMO at Golden Joysticks, and Best Classic Download MMO 2013 in the MMO of the Year awards, to name a few.